Placer.ai Spotlight: Wawa’s QSR Pivot

Wawa, a leader in the gas and convenience store space, recently announced plans to nearly double its store count by 2030. The chain is also testing a new drive-thru channel to sell its fresh food offerings. We dove into the foot traffic data to take a closer look at Wawa’s success and see what the company’s standalone drive-thru’s performance reveals about Wawa’s QSR potential. 

Wawa Wows: YoY and Yo3Y Visits 

Wawa’s year-over-three-year (Yo3Y) visit numbers demonstrate how much the chain has grown in recent years, with September visits up 44.4% when compared to September 2019. To keep up with demand, Wawa added approximately 100 new stores between 2019 and 2022, and the company is set to open 54 new stores this year. 

Analyzing year-over-year (YoY) visit data for Wawa shows that the chain is still growing, with YoY foot traffic seeing a 8.5% increase in September relative to September 2021. The numbers are particularly impressive when compared to the brand’s strong performance in 2021 – and especially since the soaring fuel prices in 2022 likely led many drivers to limit their trips to the gas station. 

To build on its success, Wawa has plans to grow to 1800 locations by 2030 – nearly double its current fleet – at a pace of approximately 100 new locations per year. The brand is also looking to establish itself as a bona fide fast-food leader, having recently added a highly successful burger to its menu alongside an array of well-known sandwiches. The company is also improving its fresh food distribution channels. While until recently, customers could only get their favorite Wawa hoagie at a convenience store, the company has begun testing out drive-thrus to cement its QSR status. 

Wawa’s Emerging QSR Potential

According to Wawa’s CEO Chris Gheysens, many of the company’s new locations will include a drive-thru channel that will focus exclusively on fresh food sales, with some of the stores operating as a standalone drive-thru format. 

To date, Wawa has opened two drive-thru locations, each with a slightly different operating model, to serve as a test for the chain’s continued drive-thru expansion. The Mount Holly, NJ location opened in late 2020 as a traditional Wawa store with an attached drive-thru channel for food orders. The Morrisville, PA store, which opened in early 2021, is a standalone, drive-thru-only location (in close proximity to a traditional Wawa convenience store and gas station) that serves only Wawa’s fresh food menu. 

Compared to an August 1st, 2021 baseline, visit growth for the standalone drive-thru in Morrisville consistently outpaced monthly visit growth for the wider QSR space. The trend indicates that Wawa has the potential to capitalize on the strong demand for its food in a more traditional QSR setting – the drive-thru. 

Between August 2021 and September 2022, the Morrisville location maintained positive or neutral baseline visit growth for the majority of the period, while the wider QSR space saw visits decline or stay relatively on par with August 2021 numbers. And Wawa’s visit growth at the stand-alone drive-thru has been particularly swift since April 2022, when inflation began dominating the headlines – so the new QSR drive-thru may, like McDonald’s, be benefiting from the increased demand for affordable treats during these expensive times. 

Foot traffic data indicates that not only is demand for Wawa’s QSR drive-thru strong, but consumers are also making frequent visits – with the stand-alone drive-thru leading the way. On average, customers of the food-only drive-thru in Morrisville visit more frequently than do customers to the Mount Holly store and drive-thru. Since Q2 2021, the Morrisville drive-thru has had higher average visits per customer than the Mount Holly store and drive-thru in almost every quarter. 

Customers of the Morrisville drive-thru visited an average of 1.91 times during Q3 2022, while customers to the Mount Holly location visited on average 1.44 times in the quarter. 

It is likely that the standalone location in Morrisville heightens the appeal of Wawa’s fresh food menu. By being removed from the trappings of a gas station and convenience store, Wawa’s standalone drive-thru unlocks the full potential of its in-demand menu and secures the chain’s status as a true QSR. 

Wawa Wrap-up

Wawa is experiencing impressive foot traffic success and has a rapid expansion plan for the near future. And as positive as that is for the convenience store chain, Wawa has its GPS set on something more – becoming a major player in the QSR space.

The company has invested in its already popular fresh food menu in order to pivot into the fast-food landscape and appears to have found the recipe for success with more standalone drive-thrus planned for the near future. 

For updates and more data-driven retail insights, visit Placer.ai.

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